Irish famine

Never before seen letters from the Irish famine will be auctioned off this week in Dublin.

Many are heartrending first-hand accounts of the famine as it struck all over Ireland after 1845.

One shows a family surviving only on cabbage and salt.

The letters are from a collection kept by a Dublin legal firm that handled payments from tenants to landlords over 160 years ago at the height of the Great Hunger.

The law firm Stewart and Kincaid acted as agents for landlords in the 1840s. The letters were later purchased by another law firm.

They include a letter sent from Toureen in Co Clare detailing a potato failure in the town in May 1843, 18 months before the potato blight became a famine.

 “We have very wet weather this good while back, a great report about a failure in the potato crop, I know a man in this neighborhood to have six men last week striking potatoes in a place that failed,” wrote John Blackwell, the sub-landlord for the area.
Letters written in 1845 outline the desperation of starving people.

“Famine stares us in every quarter,” said one report from Limerick. “Nothing can be worse than the state of the potatoes. I fear all will be lost by Xmas.”

A rent collector from Clare wrote, “A neighbor of mine brought nine men with him last week to dig conacre in the west part of this parish and [when] they came back home there was not a potato in what they dug but was infected.”

A letter sent from Roscommon in 1846 talks of families surviving on “only some cabbage and salt to eat for three or four days.”

A letter from Cork outlines the story of a parish priest in Kanturk who urged the farmers in his parish not to pay their rent.

“However,” the rent collector states, “as this wholesome advice is given by a man who is very much disliked, it fell to the ground, and I had the satisfaction of receiving the full half year’s rents from several of this pious man’s congregation.”

Other letters outline plans to get legal documents for the arrest for the arrest of tenants who cannot pay, and desperate pleas from priests among others to let tenants fall behind on their rent.
James O’Halloran, the managing director at Adam’s, told the Irish Sunday Times the sale was a once time event.

“In all likelihood it’ll be a once-off,” he said. “This sort of material is unlikely to turn up ever again in this quantity. The single letters are likely to appeal to individuals who might have a connection with the locality. There are likely to be a lot of people who’d like to have a piece of this because it’s a subject that resonates with so many of us."

The company is hoping for bids from America, where so many emigrants ended up.

“A few years ago we probably would have said the best bet would be to sell it to the state. But the state can’t be seen, let alone afford, to buy things like this,” O’Halloran added.